The Personalist Project

John Podhoretz made a point on a Ricochet podcast last week that I hadn't heard elsewhere: the Duggar parents signed their family up for a reality show knowing that their oldest son had molested at least five girls, including some of his sisters. What kind of parents would do that?

Then Podhoretz said, "So now this terrible moment from their son's teenage years is known to the world." I thought, "Wait a sec. A terrible moment in their son's teenage years? The big problem here is that Josh Duggar is publicly embarrassed? What about the girls?!" He didn't so much as mention the girls.

Then I had a long, unpleasant Facebook discussion over an article linked by a friend decrying the fact that the law hadn't protected Josh Duggar's rights, and because of that, he had lost his job and was now branded a molester before the world. (Poor Josh Duggar!) That article likewise made no mention at all of the victims. Nor did its author address the basic wrongness and scandal of the fact that someone who had violated several young girls was drawing a salary from a reality show and a prominent national non-profit organization dedicated to Christian values. 

The whole public discussion surrounding the case has touched on several flash points of mine.

1. The problem of spiritual abuse and cult dynamics in the Christian counter culture.

Too many on the religious right like to think of the Duggars as exemplars of Christianity and pro-life family values. So the tendency is to leap to their defense when they come under negative media attention. We close our ears and shut our eyes to the mounting evidence that there is something seriously awry—not just in that family, but in whole swathes of Christianity.

Recall what so many Catholics did regarding the Legion of Christ and the Covenant Communities. Victims and critics for years and decades were dismissed and/or vilified as "disgruntled" and "bitter" and "attacking a work of God" on no better grounds than an assumption that the Legion and the Communities must be innocent because they were orthodox and conservative.

And so we stood in practical solidarity with the abusers against their victims.

2. A distorted idea of sexuality and modesty, in which feminine sexuality is subordinate to male sexuality. The Duggars were publicly associated with groups founded by Bill Gothard (since exposed as a serial abuser of women) that hold girls responsible for male lust. If girls dress or move "immodestly", they "defraud" men. So, if they get abused, it's likely largely their fault, especially if they won't forgive, because (so the teaching goes) the abuser only affects their body, while "unforgiveness" poisons the soul. 

3. A distorted idea of Christian forgiveness, according to which victims of wrong are urged to forgive their abusers (i.e. drop their charges and claim to recompense), even in the absence of repentance and amends or so much as the minimal justice of having the truth of what happened to them acknowledged. If they talk about what happened, they are condemned for gossip or detraction. If they won't just drop it and "move on", they are accused of "bitterness" and "unforgiveness" and "vengeance." If they get depressed or develop eating disorders, they are dismissed as having "emotional problems." Once again, the Christian community stands in practical solidarity with the wrongdoer against the victims.

4. The problem of a pro-male bias in law and culture. Josh Duggar essentially suffered no legal consequences for his abuse. His parents at first tried to deal with it "in-house", as if what he did was "sin" merely, rather than aberrant behavior indicating psychological issues that need professional attention. Then, a year later, at the behest of the elders at his church, Jim Bob brought Josh to speak with a trooper, who was a personal acquaintance. That trooper (who is now serving time in jail for child pornography) failed to file a report. Three years later, a tip to a hotline led to a police investigation, during which Josh confessed and witnesses corroborated the basic facts. But the statue of limitations had expired by that point, so nothing further was done. Because Josh was a minor when he committed the offenses, the records were sealed. No one was supposed to know about it. He could star in the family reality show and work for the Family Research Council and no one need ever know the truth.  Meanwhile, thanks to that statute of limitations, the girls will have no legal recourse when they're old enough to realize what happened to them. If it hadn't come out in the open "accidentally", they wouldn't even have been free to tell their story.

I may have mentioned before the climactic scene from the movie The Winslow Boy, which comes to mind againThe boy's case against the Admiralty looks like a lost cause. He is generally accused of "wasting the government's time" and tarring the reputation of the British navy. Most of Parliament, having agreed that, in future, cases like his will be handled differently, think it's past time to "move on" to more important matters of state. Sir Robert Morton's comrades are urging him to to give up the defense. Instead, he rises and reminds all present of some basic principles of Christian justice: "What you do to the least of these, you do to me," and "You shall not stand with the powerful against the weak!"

We are used to the ideal of Justice as blind. She doesn't regard wealth or social status in adjudicating cases; the powerful are not to get special treatment. But the full Christian sense goes further than neutrality. It makes itself the advocate of the weak against the powerful. It's not that the powerful have no rights; its that the disadvantaged need an advocate. 

I submit that in all cases where the master/slave hermeneutic is at play, which is to say, practically all cases, the "bias" of the Christian should be on the side of the "slave." When the weak or poor or oppressed claim wrong, we should make it our aim to ensure that they get justice.

Comments (2)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jun 4, 2015 11:02am

I posted this article before the Duggars' interview yesterday with Megyn Kelly (which I didn't watch.) 

I want to say here that I feel sorry for them, just as I felt sorry for the sincere Legion defenders—people who had gained a lot through the Legion and couldn't bring themselves to believe that they had been revering a sociopath as a saint, promoting the system he designed for enriching himself and grooming victims, actually enabling abuse by denying or minimizing it, and circling the wagons around the perpetrators.

My impression is that the Duggars are true believers who have been horribly misled into thinking that the way of life they live is the one Jesus gave us in the Bible. To come to terms with the truth will be devastating.

But the longer they don't do it, the more harm they're exposing their children to.

I thought this analysis of the interview was good and helpful. The Duggars seem to be hiding the fact that the "counseling" they sent Josh for was with Bill Gothard, who has since been exposed as a serial sex offender. It's not a good sign.


#2, Jun 9, 2015 5:04pm

Thank you, Katie, for this thoughtful and refreshing perspective. All of us who are striving to advocate for the weak often question our sanity. Victims themselves either do not have a voice, or dont know how to use it. Thanks you for shining a light on the idea  of christian justice being so much more than neutral. We are called to be advocates, and while this is a painful calling, I am no longer questioning the sanity of it nearly as much.

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